The last railway line still active between the European continent and Russia is over. The symbol is very strong, this line had passed during the Cold War.
19.07 Sunday evening. The Allegro train enters the main railway station in the Finnish capital, ending with the last railway line still active between Russia and the EU, a month after the invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions against Moscow.
Twelve years after the maiden voyage of this modern train with Vladimir Putin on board, which at the time was a symbol of renewal of Euro-Russian relations, traffic will not be interrupted in any way, from this Monday, between St. Petersburg and Helsinki, a line that is nevertheless active even during the Cold War.
“Now that I have my cats back, I have no reason to return, I have everything that is most valuable to me,” Alex, a Muscovite resident of Helsinki, told AFP for a few years when he came down with a box of his two felines. Behind the young man with very recognizable blue hair, people are standing on the platform pulling large suitcases, a couple of children.
After air traffic was suspended following European sanctions, the Finnish government decided to leave the line open at first, making for a rare airlock, especially for Russians wishing to return to Europe or leave their country. But the national company VR had announced on Friday that the connection would be stopped after the weekend at the request of the Finnish authorities to respect the sanctions.
As a precautionary measure, Russian citizens questioned on the quay prefer not to disclose their surnames, while Vladimir Putin criticized the “traitors” who left Russia in wartime. “I do not know how to get back to Moscow, we will see how this situation can be resolved,” explains Ivan, a Russian student at Moscow University who is traveling for the Easter holidays with his parents in Portugal, accompanied by his mother.
His exams are due to be taken in a few weeks. “The situation in Russia has become more complicated,” escapes the young man with the thin mustache with his face wrapped in the hood. Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine and the end of air connections, the Allegro train had suddenly become crowded, with almost 700 passengers using it every day for two daily trips.
Cold War train
And this while the conditions for boarding are very limited: you must either be a Finnish citizen, or be a Russian citizen, but with a valid Schengen visa and an anti-covid vaccine recognized in the EU – and therefore not the majority of Sputnik in Russia .
While some said they made a trip without planning to return, most Russian travelers were de facto people already living, working or studying in Europe. The collaboration since December 2010 by the Finnish and Russian national railway companies, the Allegro trains in white – manufactured by the French group Alstom – had become the symbol of the Finnish-Russian partnership.
During his maiden voyage, Vladimir Putin traveled with the then Finnish President Tarja Halonen for the approximately 400 kilometers of the cross-border journey – completed in 3 and a half hours with several stops. “I hope it will recycle normally very soon,” says Aliya, a Russian who works in Helsinki but regularly visits family and friends in St. Petersburg. Petersburg, to AFP.
The end of the service will complicate her life “but people will find a way to cope with the trip one way or another”, believes the fifties with short hair and thin glasses. Land border crossings between Russia and Finland remain open. The stopping of the line, however, is heavy with symbolism. Even during the Cold War, a night train ran through the Iron Curtain between Helsinki and Russia. Allegro and its high-speed trains had taken over from older models.